All Black halfback Aaron Smith may have turned heads with his exploits on the rugby field this season, but he says the highlight of his year was coming home to Feilding for a hero's welcome.
It was only two years ago that Smith was cutting hair at Cut Loose salon in Feilding, but yesterday he was back in town as a top rugby player, signing hundreds of autographs for his fans.
Children, ex-hairdressing clients, former teachers, and high school friends lined up at the Feilding Farmers Market for a chance to meet the new All Black.
With only a few hours in the town, the former Feilding High School student was welcomed back by Manawatu District Mayor Margaret Kouvelis and councillors before he was taken to the market to meet his supporters.
The last time Smith, who now lives in Dunedin, was home was on Boxing Day.
"It's a pretty amazing feeling to be back," Smith said. "I was a bit nervous so I'm so glad people turned up. I'm proud as punch. This is the highlight of the whole year."
He described his breakout season as a "whirlwind year".
"It's something you sort of don't know is going to happen [be an All Black] ... and to say I'm in the team is kind of surreal. It's been a whirlwind really. I'm pretty chuffed about it all."
As a trained hairdresser Smith said he did get teased by his team-mates when he told them his profession.
"It was something I was passionate about when I was at school and my friend's mum owned a barber store. It's not really common is it? For a guy to be a hairdresser. A few of the boys gave me grief. I do cut some of the guys' hair now though."
Mrs Kouvelis said it was great to see everyone come out and support Smith.
"They've all come out, which is really great to see," she said.
Smith was named in Steve Hansen's first All Blacks squad in June. He is the third All Black from Feilding Yellows, the eighth from Feilding High School and the 38th from Manawatu.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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